Protest Royal College of Psychiatrists endorsing prison segregation units

As networks that do work with women and men in prisons, we have been outraged to find out that the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) is “endorsing” Close Supervision Centres (CSCs), prisons within prisons, where human beings are kept in relative or complete isolation sometimes for years. We hope that after you read the letter below to the RCP, you will be as surprised and outraged as we are, and will add your organization/name to the signatories on the list demanding that the RCP withdraw any and all “enabling environment” accolades to CSCs.

Please sign here.

If you would like to talk to someone about this, please call Sam Weinstein at 07947609429.

Yours in solidarity,

Legal Action for Women

law@allwomencount.net
/ www.legalactionforwomen.net

Payday men’s network
payday@paydaynet.org. / www.refusingtokill.net / @PaydayRTK

PS: Please do not circulate this letter yet. We are only collecting initial signatories at this time, and will make the letter public in a few weeks, hopefully with your endorsement.


To: Dr. Adrian James and to whom it may concern at the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

We write to protest that the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) accredits Close Supervision Centres (CSCs) as "Enabling Environments"[1]. These are units within five prisons where prisoners are held in conditions described by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons as “most restrictive . . . with limited stimuli and human contact”[2].

We ask that you immediately withdraw this accreditation as it gives legitimacy to the type of treatment of prisoners that has been proven to cause grave psychological harm and is in breach of international law.

We of course write at a time of national crisis when people’s health and welfare, including that of prisoners, is of primary concern.

Evidence shows that “severe restriction of environmental and social stimulation has a profoundly deleterious effect on mental functioning” and that “psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture”.[3]

This level of confinement and deprivation of contact with other human beings in CSCs is comparable to “solitary confinement”. Prolonged solitary confinement is considered psychological torture[4] and is a breach of the United Nations Mandela Rules[5]. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture called for “an absolute prohibition” of “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days”. Amnesty International has identified CSCs (formally SSUs) as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”[6]

Despite evidence of the psychological harm caused by CSCs, the RCP has accredited some of these units as "Enabling Environments".[7]

The RCP describe “Enabling Environments”: as places where there is a focus on creating a positive and effective social environment and where healthy relationships are seen as the key to success”. Specifically, the RCP 2019 standards[8] for Enabling Environments include: “Everyone is supported to communicate in ways that enable them to be listened to and heard; There is support in place to help everyone feel emotionally safe; Engagement and purposeful activity is actively encouraged; The environment is outward-looking and open to learning.”

Compare this with accounts from prisoners who testify that “the brutality inflicted upon the prisoners within [CSCs] exceeds all other prison environments in the UK, and they cause the majority of its residents to develop major mental illness requiring treatment within the secure hospitals . . . ”[9] Other accounts [10] describe prisoners being confined to their cells for 24 hours a day, being fed through a hatch, guards being allowed to attack prisoners with impunity, food deprivation used as punishment, deliberate attempts to isolate prisoners from family and outside support, “psychologically calculated, tactical targeting and abuse” and a process of assessing risk that lacks any legitimacy where prisoners feel “there is no way out”.

In addition, prisons get annually “£100,000 per prison per CSC bed based on full occupancy”[11], considerably more than the cost per prisoner held in general population. There is thus a financial incentive for sending prisoners to CSC and keeping them there, and it throws doubt on the claim that these decisions are based on an assessment of the risk that prisoners pose.  You will also be aware of the background of prison systemic neglect of prisoners with mental health problems[12].  The tragic death of Sarah Reed[13] in Holloway Prison, a Black woman with mental distress who was even denied access to her usual prescription, is an example.  Why then, do you endorse that the CSCs operate in the way claimed?

We make particular reference to prisoner Kevan Thakrar (numberA4907AE) [14] who has been held in CSCs for 10 years continuously and whose conditions and treatment are an example of the institutionalized inhumanity of the regime.  Mr. Thakrar has for most of that time been restricted to his cell for 23 or more hours per day. He is prevented from communicating with other prisoners during this time and is deprived of adequate exercise, educational and work facilities, natural daylight and long-distance vision and adequate medical treatment – these are all factors which led Amnesty International to condemn CSCs as noted above.

The process within CSCs of assessing the risk prisoners pose and deciding on their continued confinement is arbitrary and lacking in transparency. For example, Mr. Thakrar is told that he is a “high risk” prisoner without any concrete written evidence for this and without being told what he needs to do to be released from CSC beyond the subjective stipulation that he must engage with the authorities.

In 2015, 25 of the 50 persons held in the CSC system were Muslim[15], including Mr. Thakrar, when Muslim people make up only under 5% of the population. An investigation was supposed to be conducted to find out why this is the case but no reason has been given and without any legitimate justification, it has to be assumed that racism is the cause. This means that the RCP is also endorsing a racist institution. We note the recent letter from more than 100 psychiatrists demanding that the RCP take the opportunity of the Black Lives Matter movement to “put its house in order and root out all examples of institutional racism and colonial mentality”.[16] One way of doing that would be to withdraw your support for CSCs and call for them to be shut down.

In Mr. Thakrar’s case there is evidence that he was put in CSC and is being kept there as an act of retribution by the prison system. Mr. Thakrar is a mixed-race man who was targeted by guards in a racist attack.  He was charged with attempted murder for defending himself from the guards but then unanimously exonerated by a jury[17]. He was put in CSC before that trial and has been held there ever since. One of the few written assessments that he has seen speak of him as being violent, as if he launched an unprovoked attack on guards, despite the fact that it was proven in court that he acted in self-defence. This gross distortion is used to justify his imprisonment as a “high risk” prisoner. If the CSC system provides no protection against arbitrary confinement, such as that which Mr. Thakrar is subjected to, then it has no legitimacy whatsoever.

Considering testimony from prisoners and evidence that the level of confinement and isolation in CSCs cause grave psychological harm and is in breach of international law, we the undersigned demand that the RCP urgently remove its "Enabling Environments" accreditation from any existing Close Supervision Centres within the prison estate.

Signatories:

Niki Adams, Legal Action for Women

Eric Allison, Journalist and former prisoner

Victoria Childs, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Psychotherapy and Counselling Union exec.  committee member

Sam Weinstein, Payday men’s network

 

Endorsers:

Organisations

Sarah Jane Baker, Trans Prisoner Alliance

Lubia Begum-Rob, Prisoners Advice Service

Sara Callaway, Women of Colour GWS

Selma James, Global Women’s Strike

Nicki Jameson, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism

Prisoner Solidarity Network

Liz Snook, Reclaim the Power

 

Individuals

Jimena Castro

Deepa Govindarajan Driver, Chair Momentum Camden

Dr. Harriet Evans, LSE

Jonathan Fluxman, Doctors in Unite

Dr. Bob Gill, general practitioner

Will Francome, filmmaker, director of In Prison My Whole Life

Camilla Greene

Ben Griffin, ex-military anti-war activist

Anne Hall, successfully campaigned to get her severely disabled son out of prison

Owen Holland

Lissa Johnson, clinical psychologist

Bob Johnson, MRCPsych, MRCGP, PhD

Dr. Agnes Kory

Mrs. Marie Lynam

Ms. Morgan M. Page, writer

Mrs. Diane Pearson

Dr. Marcela Pizarro

Mr. Peter Robbins

Ms. Una Sapietis

Anna de Sousa

Dr. Derek Summerfield, psychiatrist

Jean & Atul Thakrar, parents of prisoner Kevan Thakrar

Sebastiao Viola, MRCPsych consultant psychiatrist

Peter Wickenden

Dr. Eric Windgassen, psychiatrist

Prof. Benjamin Zephaniah, Brunel University

Ms. Una Doyle National Education Union

 

Footnotes:

1.          Close Supervision Centre system

2.          Close Supervision Centres”. HM Inspectorate of Prison, August 2015

3.          Kenneth L. Faiver, Humane Healthcare for Prisoners, Ethical and Legal Challenges, p.111; H. Reyes, “The worst scars are in the mind: psychological torture”, Int Rev Red Cross 89: 591-617, 2007

4.          Psychology today: Solitary Confinement: Torture pure and simple

5.          UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisons (2015 Rev) ('Nelson Mandela Rules')

6.          Amnesty International: Special Security Units, Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

7.          The Butler Trust

8.          Enabling Environments Standards 2019

9.          Inside Time: The CSC Experiment

10.       Corporate Watch: Inside Britain’s Close Supervision Centres

11.       Deep Custody: Segregation Units and Close Supervision Centres in England and Wales

12.       Prison Reform Trust: Mental Health Care in Prisons

13.       The Guardian: My daughter was failed by many and I was ignored

14.       Mr. Thakrar is challenging his original conviction which was based on the discredited joint enterprise doctrine as well as double hearsay evidence among other irregularities (for more on his case, please go to https://justiceforkevan.org/).

15.       Deep Custody: Segregation Units and Close Supervision Centres in England and Wales

16.       The Guardian: Psychiatrists urge new leader to rid profession of institutional racism

17.       The Guardian: Frankland Prison has been found guilty

HOME